Our thoughts on Spearhead’s Hawaiian Style Pale Ale
By Ron Johnson
Before sampling the inaugural offering of the newly-minted Spearhead Brewing Company, the Hawaiian Style Pale Ale, at a tasting at Allen’s on the Danforth, I had never had the opportunity to sample a true Hawaiian pale ale. I had been making jokes about the beer being made with pineapple that very afternoon. Turns out I was right.
Poured into Spearhead's unique and (very fetching) glassware, the brew has some serious aroma. I'm not going to say I was whisked away to a tropical paradise, but it did offer a hint of the tropics with its citrus notes. Pineapple juice is added to the mix — just enough to give it the fruity notes that make it a great beer for the warm weather. The beer itself just tastes good, with plenty of upfront flavour, crispness and a belt of hops that’ll dry out your mouth quicker than a kiss from your great aunt Pearl.
Spearhead founder and North Toronto local Dimitri van Kampen said the beer would work to take the edge off on a cold winter’s night. But I'm not convinced. When I smell and taste citrus, and floral notes, I think summer. But maybe that's just me.
It seems van Kampen is something of a spicy food aficionado, and in creating the pale ale he was determined to craft a beer that would work with the likes of Indian and Thai fare. Matching wines with such full-on fare has long been a challenge. Beer works well in its place. And Spearhead’s Hawaiian Style Pale Ale did complement the rich foods served at the tasting, especially the tandoori wings and the sweet chili from the Thai shrimp.
Lawyer by day, brewmeister by night, van Kampen started the company with the slogan “beer without boundaries” as its malt mantra. According to him, if it’s already being done well on the market, he won’t bother with it. The aforementioned Hawaiian Style Pale Ale is just the first of Spearhead’s brews, with as many as three more in the works, set for release as early as this fall.
Van Kampen, who continues to work as the head of legal affairs for a Toronto company, dreamt up the brewery after getting “packaged out” of his last job in London, England, during the credit crisis. Turns out his firm’s two largest clients were Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. Enough to drive a man to drink! This news, combined with the passing of his father, was enough to give him pause to evaluate the state of things, as one tends to do under such circumstances. The answer was to pursue something he loves. Beer is that something. And van Kampen put in the first of many long nights spent bringing the Spearhead Brewing Company to fruition.
“It's been a rollercoaster ride,” he says. He’s built a small but enthusiastic team around him, including his wife, Karen van Kampen, a journalist by trade who heads up the company’s communications. “I've been operating on four hours sleep for about two years.”
Is it really so bad, spending your evenings sampling beer after beer to get the recipe right, I ask?
“Well, after the first couple, it’s great, of course,” he says. “But after the 25th or 30th…? But I do have a love for this. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn’t.”
Spearhead's Hawaiian Style Pale Ale is currently available on tap in more than two dozen Toronto locations, including favourite local watering holes The Rebel House, The Twisted Kilt and Highway 61.